Images of Place in Green Politics: The Cultural Mirror of Indigenous Traditions

Douglas Torgerson

in Living with Nature

Published in print June 1999 | ISBN: 9780198295099
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191599262 | DOI:
 Images of Place in Green Politics: The Cultural Mirror of Indigenous Traditions

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Green movements on the Western European model need to be more aware that their predilection for open public debate and transparency of government decision‐making can be insensitive to the interests of aboriginal peoples who do not share that predilection. While both environmentalists and aboriginals have a common cause in defending against encroachments by the forces of industrialism, there is an inherent paradox in the Green political concept of ‘defence of place’ arising from the fact that their cultural conceptions, of what is to be preserved and why, may conflict with those of the aboriginal peoples actually living there. An instructive case study of the protests over logging practices in Clayoquot Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia is presented. The initial alignment between environmental activists and the Nuu‐chah‐nulth aboriginals gave way to estrangement when, after hundreds of the former had been arrested, fined, or jailed, the representatives of the latter arrived at a political understanding with the authorities in respect of land claims and forest management practices. The shock experienced by some environmentalists over the independent direction taken by the Nuu‐chah‐nulth may suggest that environmentalists and aboriginals were, in fact, operating with quite different images of the forest as property. A greater degree of cultural sensitivity is required to prevent such misunderstandings in future. It is also important to recognize how politicization can change culture—a deliberate political campaign to defend a traditional culture can itself change the culture being defended. It is entirely conceivable for a defence of place—through its own political and cultural dynamics—to undermine the very culture that has given the place its unique meaning and value.

Keywords: aboriginal peoples; Clayoquot Sound; environmental activism; forestry; logging; Nuu‐chah‐nulth; Vancouver Island

Chapter.  7563 words. 

Subjects: Environment

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